The New York Islanders are moving into the next phase of the offseason with a lot of work to do. They’ve just finished the NHL Draft – and potentially gotten a steal with the 52nd pick, Aaty Räty – so what else do they have to do?
Step 1: Re-sign Restricted Free Agents
The Islanders have several key RFAs, which, if you don’t know, means young players who are currently not under contract but cannot be signed by any NHL team aside from their current one, in this case, the Islanders.
These RFAs include Anthony Beauvillier, Adam Pelech, Ilya Sorokin, Michael Dal Colle, and Kieffer Bellows, among others. They’re not in any danger of losing these players, but how much money they sign for will impact what else the Isles can do.
*Yes, technically RFAs can sometimes be signed by other teams through a procedure known as an offer sheet, but I don’t think an offer sheet is likely to succeed against the Isles this year. Teams would have to offer a huge salary to convince the Islanders not to match.
Islanders Next Steps For Successful Offseason
Let’s assume what I’ve been assuming all along – Pelech gets $5 million, Beauvillier gets $4 million, Sorokin gets $3 million, and all the others get between $800,000 and $1 million.
I’m about to show what the roster looks like with all RFAs signed, but I want to make it clear: this is not what I think the roster will actually look like next year, just what it could be if the Islanders sign RFAs and do nothing else. With that said, here is the roster:
Healthy scratches: Bellows, Johnston, Aho
Honestly, that’s not a bad team. Wahlstrom is maybe not ready for first-line minutes, the third line is a little weak (but not as bad as it was in 2019!), and the third defense pair is inexperienced. But it’s a pretty solid team, all things considered.
Now, the best part about the team above? It has over $8.8 million in cap space. And keep in mind, with every new signing, someone gets demoted to the AHL (and their cap doesn’t count), so with that $8.8 million, the Isles could sign two $5.4 million players, or one $9.8 million player, and still be cap compliant.
Step 2: Chase a Superstar
A superstar winger, to replace Jordan Eberle, would really make the Islanders a formidable team. There are only two superstar wingers who are reportedly on the move – Vladimir Tarasenko and Gabriel Landeskog – and the Islanders have been linked to both.
Getting Landeskog for $8.5 million would be possible. He’d slot in on the first line, moving Wahlstrom to the 3rd line, Dal Colle to a healthy scratch, and Johnston to the AHL. That’s a very good team, and it’d have the space to sign a depth defenseman for about $2 million.
The same thing happens with Tarasenko, whose $7.5 million cap hit is actually lower than Landeskog’s rumored demands. If the Isles trade for Tarasenko (who isn’t a free agent), they would also be able to sign a defenseman for over $3 million.
Alternatively, they could offer that $3 million to Casey Cizikas, and move Komarov to the 3LW spot he inhabited last season until Lee’s injury, playing alongside Pageau and Wahlstrom. Panik would become a healthy scratch and Bellows (or Dal Colle) would be sent to the AHL.
Step 3: Explore Other Options
Getting a superstar is hard – with only two of them on the market (although Lou Lamoriello could trade for someone we didn’t expect, of course) – there’s no guarantee the Islanders would snag either Tarasenko or Landeskog, even though they do have the cap room to do so.
So, a good GM (which Lou absolutely is) would always have a backup plan. In this case, the backup plan is easy – replace Eberle with someone for about $4 or $5 million, and sign a good Leddy replacement.
I do think an Eberle replacement is necessary – whatever you or I think about Oliver Wahlstrom, we all know Barry Trotz isn’t ready to put him on the first line yet. Let’s say the Eberle replacement gets $4.5 million.
That replacement could easily be Kyle Palmieri, who was born on Long Island and is reportedly very interested in returning:
They could also then sign a Leddy replacement for around $5 million. The obvious answer is Ryan Suter, who was bought out by Minnesota and is now a free agent. He is reportedly aiming to make a decision by tomorrow, and the Islanders have been linked to him for weeks now.
However, that might not happen – other teams are also interested in Suter, and the Islanders may not be the favorites.
Who else is available? A name I haven’t heard often, but one I’d really consider if I was Lou, is Alec Martinez. He had 32 points in 53 games with Vegas last year, and a +/- rating of +26. His advanced stats aren’t particularly good, but he still might be worth it.
Another option is Mike Reilly, who put up 27 points in 55 games with Ottawa and Boston last year. His Corsi For % was 54.8%, and jumped to 63.3% only counting his time in Boston. Reilly is a very underrated defenseman who doesn’t get enough credit for a solid two-way game.
The Bruins might still sign Reilly, of course, but talks are reportedly still far away. The Islanders could offer Reilly $3.5 million – which would be seen as an overpayment, but based on his production might actually be a bargain – and still have plenty of cap room.
In fact, they could still offer Cizikas $3.5 million if Reilly also gets that much. Isn’t this the perfect Lamoriello move? Keep Cizikas and Palmieri, add an underrated defenseman, and continue to be a full four lines and three defense pairs with no weak spots?
I asked on Twitter if there were any questions you wanted answered. Bill F asked “These contract demands that have been reported … seem a bit high” and I agree. Let’s talk a bit about that:
Adam Pelech’s contract demand is apparently close to $7 million, according to Arthur Staple, while Cizikas’s is around $5 million. I think those are both higher than they’ll actually receive, which is generally how negotiation works – they’re offering a high number, the Isles will offer a low number, and they’ll meet in the middle.
Matt O’Leary wrote more about the reasons these demands aren’t likely to be met – read this article if you’re interested.
But it’s still possible that their ultimate contracts will be higher than I expect – for example, Pelech could conceivably get $6 million if he signs for 7 or 8 years. That would be good in the long run, no doubt, but would make it slightly more difficult to sign Landeskog. Tarasenko, though, with his $7.5 million cap hit, would still be a realistic option if Pelech makes more than we expect.
Mike M asked “Assuming the Isles resign their top RFAs, is there enough for Palmieri and a top UFA like Hamilton or Landeskog or do they circle back on Parise and/or Suter?”
I talked a bit about this already, but if we assume the top UFA will get somewhere around $8 million and Palmieri gets between $4 and $5 million, it’s gonna be tough to do both. Theoretically, though, it would be possible if Komarov and Hickey are traded to free up some extra space.
I haven’t talked much about Parise because, strictly in terms of cap, it doesn’t matter. He’d get between $1 million and $1.5 million, and is essentially interchangeable with Richard Panik in all my cap projections.
(That’s not to say he’s better, or worse, than Panik – I’m not taking a position on that right now. I just mean that his contract would be very similar to Panik’s.)
But a Parise addition is possible in basically any situation – adding him and moving Panik to a healthy scratch, then demoting Bellows or Dal Colle, doesn’t really add anything to the total cap hit. At most it’d add about $500,000.
So, to answer the question, it is possible to resign Palmieri and sign a top UFA, but it’s difficult and would almost certainly involve at least one trade.
If you want your question answered in my next article, you can ask me on Twitter (@BrianWeinberge7) or ask in the comments of this article.